October 24, 2014

A Little More About American Feedsacks...

Feedsack fabric I purchased from Pat's Sacks Tuesday evening.
I received a question from my blog friend, Mandy on my recent feedsack post, asking me to explain how they were used. I'm sorry I wasn't more clear about that in my original post, so I'm going the share more photographs from Tuesday night, along with a further explanation for you.
Feedsacks were used to hold and transport various goods beginning in the early 1800s and ending in the mid-1960s. Originally, food staples, grains, seed and animal feed was packed into boxes and wooden barrels. These containers were bulky, and frequently leaked or were easily damaged. Plus, they were bulky and heavy to transport.

Manufacturers wanted another method for containing their goods, but homespun bags (considered "junk fabric") used by farmers to store goods at home, weren't considered because the hand sewn seams couldn't hold up to heavy use. After the invention of the sewing ("stitching") machine, it was more efficient and a sturdier method for double locking seams on cloth to hold those same goods. This technology then made fabric containers useful to manufacturers.
Feedsacks were originally made of heavy canvas and used to hold and carry flour, sugar, meal, grain, salt and feed from the mills, and they were reusable so the farmers could bring their empty sacks (stamped with their own identifying mark) back to the mill to be filled and refilled.

Farmers got a lot of use out of those sacks until the North East mills began weaving inexpensive cotton fabric in the late 1800s. Originally they were printed on plain, white cloth in sizes that corresponded to barrel sizes, (a one barrel bag held 196 pounds of flour.) and the brand names were simply printed on the side of the bag.
Once a thrifty farm wife figured out that the cotton bag was a ready source for dishcloths, diapers, nighties and other household items, they started bringing them in from the barns into their homes. "A 1942 estimate showed that three million women and children of all income levels were wearing printed feedbag garments."
When manufacturers realized just how their feedsacks were being used, they knew they had better advertising opportunities, making them in various prints and patterns, as well as in solid colors. Their salesmen would often carry their feedsacks into town and hang them over their chairs at the local eateries to promote their products. Directions were even given for using the strings in knitting and crocheting. Later, they used feedsacks as premiums, including them in soap and cereal boxes, for example.

I remember my mother purchasing large boxes of dry laundry detergent when I was a kid just for the "gift with purchase". It was fun to open those boxes and pull out the towel, shaking it to get the soap off.  Of course, if you wanted a matched set, you'd have to buy more soap!
Cecelia also gave me some cotton seeds so I could try growing my own plants!
Feedsacks became more colorful, with printed patterns that could more readily be used for dresses, tablecloths, curtains, pre-printed fabrics that were sewn together to make stuffed toys, and of course, those functional (and now beloved) quilts.

After World War II, heavier paper and plastic were more economical containers. The manufacturers then incorporated polyester into their bags, and the sacks soon fell out of favor with farm wives, who preferred the 100% cotton for their purposes. The cotton feedsacks were only produced until 1965, and the vintage ones have have become cherished collectibles.
A free handout from Cecelia of Pat's Sacks
I am, by no means any expert in this field. Most of what I'm sharing is due to the knowledge Cecelia shared with our guild on Tuesday evening. There are, however, many sources available to learn more about this fascination subject. 

In case you're interested, I know that there are a many examples of feedsack fabric and actual intact feedsacks available on Ebay (Don't bid against me, please). Have fun learning more thanks to the internet.

Thanks for the question, Mandy! I hope this helps clear things up a bit.
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jenann said...

I love the feedsack fabrics but often wonder whether women ever found they were just a scrap or two short and the same pattern was not to be found anymore at the feed store? And did lots of little girls find they all arrived in school in the same dress fabric?
Whatever - this really beats the rather hideous, shiny plastic flowers my mother received on boxes of Persil in the early 60s! Though we did make good use of the hessian (burlap) feed sacks for the base of our proddy mats.

Jacque. said...

Thanks so much for the feedsack education...I knew very little about this subject. Have a great weekend!

Jane said...

My mother raised chickens when we were growing up - for the eggs & the meat - so we had plenty of feedsacks around here, all from Ralston Purina of Checkerboard Square! These bags had a red & white checkerboard pattern but my mother bleached that out and used the fabric for all kinds of things - dish towels, ruffled underpants for me, even some curtains. I remember lots of other girls had dresses made from the patterned fabrics but don't know what came in those, maybe flour? Usually the mothers would use the patterned fabric with a solid color to make the dresses - they were all cute and people wore them proudly. This was in the late 1940s - mid 1950s. I still have one of the old chicken feed bags here - brings back memories!

Createology said...

I love reading about the feed sacks and how "green" previous generations were in re-using everything. No chance of me bidding against you dear. I have too much stuff now to begin another "hoarded" collection. Saturday Satisfaction...

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